Dream debut for Runnalls

Yarrawonga raised Airlie Runnalls (second back with raised arm) was pumped to be running out for her debut game in the AFLW for the Fremantle Dockers in round 1 of the 2022 AFLW season. She had a stellar game racking up 14 possessions and impressing her coach Trent Cooper. Airlie and her Fremantle teammates will be in Melbourne for the next couple of games before heading back to Western Australia after the border reopens on February 5.(Photo courtesy of Fremantle Dockers Facebook.)

Yarrawonga’s own Airlie Runnalls had a dream debut game for the Fremantle Dockers in their round one win against the West Coast Eagles in the first week of the AFLW 2022 season on Saturday.

Wearing the number 22 Airlie was one of six debutants and played on the wing in front of a crowd of 5500 at Fremantle Oval.

She was often seen running alongside the play and in the top leading position getters with 14 possessions, nine kicks, five handballs, two marks and one tackle, impressing her coach Trent Cooper.

“The six debutants came into a fierce and competitive game and produced. Airlie Runnalls was very good, she had 14 touches on the wing off limited game time, so we were rapped with what she produced,” Cooper said in a post-match interview.

Airlie became the first AFLW recruit from the local area after she was picked up by the Fremantle Dockers in the 2021 draft at pick 44.

Although predominantly playing netball for the Pigeons as a teenager Airlie started playing football just a matter of years ago in 2017 when she moved to Melbourne for university.

Airlie (pictured far right) joins her teammates in congratulating Hayley Miller after kicking a goal during the first round AFLW match between the Fremantle Dockers and West Coast Eagles at Fremantle Oval in Perth on Saturday. Photo: AAP.

Upon beginning her footy career in Melbourne, Airlie started playing for Melbourne Uni before joining North Melbourne in the VFLW and playing three seasons.

The 164cm outside mid is highly regarded for her strong running capacity and good kick and tailors her game on previous teammate and North Melbourne AFL midfielder Kaitlyn Ashmore while also looking up to current teammate Kiara Bowers as an inspiration.

Airlie said it was so much fun out on the field for her first match and to get the win was even better.

“It was such a great moment, it was pretty surreal,” Airlie said.

“It’s a massive step up (from the VFLW), so much pressure and so much less time with the footy so you just need to get it on the boot a lot quicker.

“Before the game I was pretty nervous but once out there it was good. It was good having five other debutants with me too.

“The future is so bright with this team.”

While Airlie loved playing in front of a Fremantle home crowd, she is looking forward to coming ‘home’ to the east this week for the next few Fremantle away games.

“The WA borders reopen on February 5 so we will come over to Melbourne this weekend, play a couple of games there then head to Tassie before we head back into WA,” Airlie said.

“We won’t be in hubs as such in Melbourne but will be on pretty tight restrictions.

“It is exciting to be heading to the east for the next few games. I wasn’t able to head home for Christmas with the border being shut but I did spend it with some Freo families so I’m keen to see my family and friends and hopefully get some more games and play some more footy.

“Especially because we’re on the flight with the Eagles this Saturday, so to have that win is awesome.”

Fremantle’s next game is classified as a home game at Whitten Oval this Sunday.

Airlie was drafted to the Dockers as pick 44 in the 2021 AFLW draft.